Editor’s Corner—With the OS race over, AI is the new platform battleground

Google HQ building
“The Google Assistant will automatically come to eligible Android phones running Nougat and Marshmallow with Google Play Services,” the company said on the Assistant blog.

Google said this week that it will roll out support for its Assistant to phones running versions 6 and 7 of its Android mobile operating system, finally expanding its reach beyond the Pixel and other Google-branded hardware.

“The Google Assistant will automatically come to eligible Android phones running Nougat and Marshmallow with Google Play Services,” the company said on the Assistant blog. “You'll also see the Google Assistant on some newly announced partner devices, including the LG G6.”

The rollout will start with English-language users in the U.S., followed by English speakers in Australia, Canada and the U.K., as well as German-language users in Germany. More languages will be added over the next year, Google said.

And the timing of its announcement—on the very front end of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona—was no coincidence, as Ben Wood of CCS Insight noted.

“Google’s Assistant was caught napping in the initial battle for a place on smartphones,” Wood wrote. “The decision by Huawei to include Amazon’s Alexa when it announced the Mate 9 at CES in January must have stung. So it comes as little surprise to see a steady stream of Google executives gracing the stages of all the major Android smartphone launches this week.”

It’s worth noting that Google’s announcement comes just two weeks after Gartner found that Android and iOS combined to claim a dominating 99.6% of all new smartphones sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2016. Microsoft’s mobile operating system saw its share of the market dwindle to 0.3%, down from 1.1% the previous year. BlackBerry’s shares fell below 0.1%. All other operating systems accounted for 0.1% of sales.

So despite significant potential growth of the smartphone industry in emerging markets, the global battle over mobile operating systems is essentially over. Android dominates the overall worldwide market, while iOS has maintained a solid chunk of users—largely affluent users—in markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe. — Colin | @colin_gibbs